Wall lizard – a true Jersey resident

By Nina Cornish

The common wall lizard Podarcis muralis is one of four species of reptile in Jersey with green lizard Lacerta bilineata, slow worm Anguis fragilis and grass snake Natrix helvetica. The green lizard and wall lizard are found nowhere else in the British Isles except for recently introduced populations of green lizards in Guernsey and England and around twenty separate introduced wall lizard colonies in the UK.

Wall lizards in Jersey live mainly in relatively small, fragmented populations around the east and north east coast, with some very small colonies found on the south coast. Their largest population is at Mont Orgueil Castle, St Martin.

Wall lizards are small and agile, with adults an average snout to vent length of 58.5mm but can grow up to 75 mm. They live for approximately 38 months in the wild and mate in April or May. Wall lizards are oviparous (produce young by means of eggs), with most females laying two clutches per year with an average of five eggs, typically in June and July under low growing vegetation exposed to sunshine. Adult males are the first to emerge from hibernation, generally in February, although unseasonably warm spells of weather can tempt them out in any of the winter months. The females tend to emerge later, usually in early March. In these early months the males become aggressive, chasing and fighting for territory and females.

 

Wall lizards exhibit tail autonomy, a function which allows the tail vertebrae to break by the lizard contracting it muscles in the tail. This is an important anti-predator mechanism in lacertid lizards, with tails being shed more easily in populations where levels of predation are high. In Jersey the wall lizards’ main predators are rats, certain birds like corvids and kestrels and domestic cats. The older an individual, the more likely it will have suffered the loss of its tail during its lifetime.

Wall lizard populations vary greatly in terms of colouring across their range, although males and females are do have different coloured patterns which allows identification in adults possible. Jersey female lizards can usually be identified as having pale back and side streaks, whereas males have more dark spots and blotches.  Both sexes have camouflage markings and coloration, on top of beige – olive coloured background, and with a lighter throat and belly, which can vary in colour from cream to bright orange, pink or red in males. Red throats and belly coloration are commonly observed in breeding males in Jersey.Habits

During the day, wall lizards constantly ‘shuttle’ between areas of light and shade, with the amount of time spent basking per day decreasing as the strength and duration of sunlight increases. As a result, in the early morning one can expect to see the most lizards as they emerge to bask, conversely the least at around midday when most are foraging or inactive in the shade.  Activity will then peak again in the late afternoon. Body temperature is regulated utilising this ‘shade mosaic’, i.e. the dappled light effect produced by partial vegetation cover. This means that an ideal situation in terms of vegetation cover would be partial cover in some areas, suitable for foraging and protection from predators with an adjacent area on which to bask and display social, sexual and territorial behaviour. 

 

Wall lizards spend much of the day foraging. In Jersey they feed mainly on Hemiptera (true bugs), Isopoda (woodlice), Hymenoptera (bees, ants etc), Arachneae (spiders), Dermaptera (earwigs), Orthoptera (grasshoppers), Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars) and Annelids (earthworms). The type of prey varies between sites, not as a matter of preference, more of whatever types of invertebrates are prevalent at each location.

The story behind their distribution and origins

Wall lizards on Jersey are near the northern limit of their geographical range. The species has a wide distribution in continental Europe including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and the Balkan region, with the northernmost limit of distribution being Maastricht in the Netherlands.

As the name suggests, the wall lizard is most often seen on vertical surfaces including cliffs, rock piles and walls and are especially associated with human habitations. The Jersey populations are typical of other northern European localities in that they are mainly restricted specifically to walls of houses, gardens, fortifications and castles and are widely used provided they are south-facing and have refuges like holes, piles of debris and some form of vegetation cover nearby. Outside the foraging home range of around 15-25 m2, sightings of wall lizard rapidly decrease from the exterior of the forts that they inhabit.

The distribution of wall lizards on Jersey has never really been explained. Despite some intensive local research, no-one has been able to prove why they have such a fragmented distribution or why they have not spread over the Island despite there being large areas of suitable habitat on the north and west coasts. Jersey’s wall lizard presence and distribution was first mentioned in Ansted & Latham’s 1865 The Channel Islands. It stated that wall lizards (although first mistaken for sand lizards), were comparatively rare and were limited to certain districts in the Island. By 1907, Sinel (Notes on the Lizards of the Channel Islands) recorded wall lizards from the cliff, rocks and walls off a thin coastal belt from the east to the north-east coast of Jersey (Le Sueur, 1976). Sinel (1908: The Reptilia, Batrachia, and Mammalia of the Channel Islands, their Origin and Modification by Isolation) also mentions a very interesting historic account concerning French prisoners being held in the Napoleonic forts after the Battle of Jersey (1781) when France attempted to invade Jersey. During this period French prisoners were imprisoned in the Napoleonic forts and it was suggested that they kept wall lizards as pets. Whether these were pets they bought with them or lizards they captured while being imprisoned is uncertain. Alternatively, colonisation could have occurred subsequent to Jersey becoming isolation via rafting (lizards hitching rides on natural materials blown out to sea) or the transportation of quarried granite, between France, Chausey and Jersey.  It has been documented that lizards in Jersey were part of a wider pet trade, with lizards being sent from Jersey to England as far back as 1761. Sinel stated in 1908 that ‘The Green lizard is becoming very scarce. This is partly due to the dealers, who have set a price upon its head’. Pyecraft (1927: Jade green lizards of Jersey) wrote ‘The wall lizard, in the locality where I found it, swarmed, but wild horses will not drag from me the place of its retreat, lest a demand be created for specimens.  The consequent exploitation by dealers could exterminate it in a single summer!’ By 1947, the pet trade in lizards had reached such proportions that the States of Jersey passed the Wildlife Protection (Jersey) Law 1947, which prohibited the buying, selling, exportation or killing of all reptiles and amphibians of Jersey, as a measure to control the roaring trade for these animals as pets destined for England.

In 1976, Frances Le Sueur published the first distribution map of wall lizards (included below) demonstrating their distribution to be substantially the same distribution as recorded by Sinel in 1907. Since 1976, the wall lizard has been recorded in an additional three-kilometre squares.

In 1988, Chris Perkins (1989: The biology and conservation of the green lizard and wall lizard in Jersey) carried out an Island survey of both wall and green lizards and in 1997, Rosie Smith (2000: Census of Jersey wall lizards Podarcis muralis and ecological correlates of distribution at fort sites in Jersey) studied their distribution and ecology. In 2008 the States of Jersey carried out a public survey to determine the distribution of green and wall lizards. Both St Aubin’s Fort and some very small populations in public and private gardens along the south coast were added to their known distribution. Presence in these areas is thought to be through accidental introductions carried out sometime in the 20th Century.

Distribution map 1965-2005

The lizards fragmented distribution could be partially due to Jersey being on the extreme edge of their distribution. Jersey’s wall lizards may only be able to utilise small areas of suitable habitat due to its northern range (Strijbosch et al. 1980) or their patchy and restricted distribution on the north-eastern, eastern and south coast could have been through introduction following the construction of these forts and towers.

To determine Jersey’s wall lizards’ origins and genetic fitness, a study was carried out to investigate the phylogeography and genetic structure of peripheral populations on Jersey (Channel Islands) and the French Chausey archipelago. In 2014, mitochondrial DNA (cytochrome b gene) from 200 individuals was sequenced to infer the phylogeography of the island populations using Bayesian approaches. In addition, 484 individuals from 21 populations at 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci were genotyped to evaluate the genetic structure and diversity of island and mainland (Western France) populations.

The data provided strong evidence that the wall lizard populations on Jersey and Chausey belong to a single origin. Furthermore, the analyses suggest that this mtDNA clade was isolated from mainland Europe for a long period of time and should be considered native. The origin of the wall lizards on Jersey and Chausey Islands appears to result from increasing sea levels 7,000 BP, isolating island populations from each other, creating independent population histories and hence divergence. It remains possible, however, that there has been occasional gene flow between islands. This could explain the presence of lizards on very small islets in the Chausey archipelago which are unlikely to be large enough to sustain populations for thousands of years independently. In addition, the presence of the most common haplotype (genetic ancestor) in mainland France appeared on the island of Chausey. This might provide evidence of occasional geneflow between mainland France and the islands via retention of ancestral genetic variation or a more recent introduction.

Anecdotal evidence also suggested that human mediated dispersal might be the most likely explanation for one of the four current locations in Jersey, the population on St. Aubin Fort. Although our mtDNA data revealed a different haplotype from other Jersey populations, the nucDNA clusters all Jersey populations together. This suggests that the source population was most likely animals from other Jersey populations and that the difference in haplotype represents a founder effect (the loss of genetic variation that occurs when a new population is established by a very small number of individuals from a larger population). Overall, these results confirm the suspected native status of Jersey and Chausey wall lizards. Thus, the lower genetic diversity of island populations compared to the mainland populations is expected given the lack of gene flow. This may have significant implication for the long-term persistence of the species on Jersey and Chausey Islands. However, since our data suggests the species have been present on the islands for thousands of years it might have already been subject to a severe genetic bottleneck. The species might also have undergone a substantial reduction in abundance more recently.

As this study clarified the native status of the wall lizard population on Jersey, it validates its current full protection status sunder the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000 (as amended). The law prohibits the unlicensed taking, sale, keeping, injury and destruction of places for shelter (e.g. nest, dens or burrows) and disturbance of any resident animals. Given our results, it is important that Jerseys conservation planners recognise the wall lizard’s restricted distribution, vulnerability to future inbreeding depression, susceptibility to disease, predation and the island’s ever-increasing urban development when determining species management strategies. For instance, should the granite walls and ramparts of historic fortresses where lizards are at highest abundance be developed or destroyed, the population’s continued survival could be at risk. The lizard’s long-term conservation status will depend upon increasing habitat connectivity, especially via coastline protection, connecting their north-eastern and eastern coast populations on the island.

How they are doing?

The most current population estimates were made by Perkins (1988) and Smith (1997) at specific Jersey forts and towers. Due to their protection, restricted distribution and vulnerability there is a need to monitor populations. In 2007 the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) was launched in Jersey by the States of Jersey Department of the Environment (now Natural Environment) as part of its integrated ecological monitoring programme. The scheme was developed by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) and has been run in partnership with Natural Environment and Jersey Amphibian and Reptile Group (JARG) over a 12-year period (2007-2018) to assess and detect changes in the conservation status of Jersey’s native amphibians and reptiles.

In 2019 12-years of NARRS data was analysed to determine changes in occupancy and distribution of Jersey’s native amphibians and reptiles. The result of these analyses determined wall lizard are still restricted to coastal localities. The scheme was not able to determine the wall lizard’s detectability due to their restricted distribution and during the 12-year survey period their occupancy on the island decreased.  Additional data was sourced from the Jersey Biodiversity Centre which showed occupancy to have remained stable. The restricted distribution combined with uninformative detection and occupancy results indicate NARRS is not well suited to monitoring wall lizards being better for more widespread species. As a result, the agile frog, grass snake and wall lizard, being rarer and / or more restricted in their distributions, require monitoring with separate surveys. Therefore, future monitoring should (i) apply survey methods specific to the species, (ii) focus on determining species occupancy status at known and suspected sites and (iii) aim to better understand the factors driving species occupancy and detection.

In 2019 new monitoring schemes were designed for amphibian and reptiles with robust and practical data collection in mind. Reptilewatch JE was created with the aim to detect changes in the conservation status of Jersey’s reptiles, through changes in occupancy (levels 1 and 2 surveys) and detect site-level population changes (level 3 surveys). Level 2 Wall Lizard Survey was created to specifically consider Jersey’s wall lizards’ restricted distribution.

 How can you help?

We are looking to recruit ‘Wild Volunteers’ to join our Reptilewatch JE team and search for wall lizards at known and suspected wall lizard sites. Wall lizard surveyors are required to carry out six surveys, between March and October, spending 30 minutes at each site visually searching (either walking or looking from a fixed vantage point). You will need training at one of our training events, but no previous experience is needed. Please contact wildaboutJersey@gov.je  or go to the Jersey Amphibian Reptile Group (JARG) Reptilewatch JE webpage for more information. There are opportunities for everyone to get involved, with three levels of surveys depending on your interest, available time and experience.

Download the report Phylogeography and conservation genetics of the common wall lizard, Podarcis muralis, on islands at its northern range here 

Jersey Great Garden Bat Watch coming to a garden near you 6-7th June

Pipistrellus nathusii photo taken under licence by Miranda Collett Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th June, 20:55 until 22:00

From Jersey Bat Group

Please join the Jersey Bat Group for the second Great Garden Bat Watch!

This event combines the joy of (hopefully!) watching bats with citizen science-based research that can help us better understand bats across Jersey.

The Group are particularly keen to receive sightings of bats from St Helier and other urban areas around the Island to help with their research into Jersey’s urban bat populations.

We are asking if you could look for bats on the 6th and 7th June, but please do feel free to use the form (below) to submit your bat sightings throughout the summer.

However: if you are submitting sightings on dates other than 6th and 7th June then, to get the right timings, please go to sunset times here and ensure that you are outside looking for bats at least 15 minutes before sunset. That way you will ensure you spot the first bats…though it may mean you wait up to 30 minutes before seeing your first one.

Les Augres Manor, a good place to spot bats. Photo by Glyn Young

The Great Garden Bat Watch

We are asking you to go into your garden, or to an open space near your house or really anywhere in the Island to look for bats.

We ask that you do this whilst maintaining social distancing and by following any other requirements of the Government of Jersey’s safe exit framework.

  • Main event: Saturday 6th or Sunday 7th June (or both!)
  • Where: Any outside space (garden, park, lane, beach)
  • What time: From 20:55 until 22.00

You do not need a bat detector as we are not asking you to identify bat species, all you need to note down is:

  • The time you saw the first bat
  • The direction the bat flew from
  • Details of the recorder, date and location

Great Garden Bat Watch data entry form

We are working in conjunction with the Jersey Biodiversity Centre who have designed a bespoke data entry form for you to enter your sightings –  through the form here.

If you manage to take any photos or videos of bats in flight during the Great Garden Bat Watch then please post them in the comments box for this event on the Jersey Bat Group Facebook page or email them to the Jersey Bat Group

We look forward to receiving news of your local bats!

For any further details about the bat watch or to submit your data by email then please email the Jersey Bat Group

Happy bat watching!

Myotis nattereri photo taken under licence by Amy Hall

Jersey’s birdwatching and bird photography code of conduct updated

By Romano da Costa and Glyn Young

Many bird species in Jersey are endangered locally or globally. Their survival depends on their chances to feed and breed safely. Birdwatching and bird photography may cause disturbance to birds, and, in certain circumstances, this disturbance might cause them harm or even death. The following is a simple good practice code of conduct that puts the interest of birds first and offers simple advice on how to enjoy birdwatching and bird photography whilst minimising the disturbance to the birds or their habitats:

  1. Avoid getting too close to birds, if a bird flies away you’re too close! Do not be tempted to keep chasing the bird (some birds will freeze when approached). If a bird is making repeated alarm calls you are also too close
  2. Stay on roads, footpaths or in bird hides to avoid going too close to birds or walking through their habitats. Disturbing habitats is just as bad as disturbing the bird itself
  3. Think about your fieldcraft. Disturbance is not just about going too close – a flock of wading birds on the foreshore can be disturbed from a distance if you stand on the seawall or walk directly towards them while a bird of prey on a kill will abandon it if you get too close!
  4. DO NOT use playback or birdsong recordings to lure out hidden birds or to make them sing at any time of year. Provoking this behaviour may cause unnecessary stress to the bird, make it waste vital energy, keep it from feeding its mate or young, and put it at increased risk from predators. You may also be breaking the Law
  5. DO NOT use flash when photographing birds at night. This might distract the birds or daze them, making them more vulnerable to predators
  6. Know the law: Disturbing a wild bird feeding, roosting or at its nest or nesting area is an offence under the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000
  7. Make your sightings count: Report your observations in the records book at the hides or
  8. If you witness anyone who you suspect may be illegally disturbing or destroying wildlife or its habitat, phone the Police on 01534 612612 or the Department of the Environment on 01534 441600.

A copy of the code can be downloaded here

Jersey’s cirl buntings in spring 2020

 
When cirl buntings returned to Jersey after an 8-year absence in 2011, we waited anxiously to see whether they could fully recolonise (see update). We knew that there was adequate nesting habitat available, not least as their hosts, Royal Jersey Golf Club, were happy to help them. The limiting factor seemed to be the availability of adequate food in the winter when the buntings live out in the fields. We sought advice, not least from the RSPB’s Cath Jeffs, developed a plan for the buntings and it was suggested that we provide grain for them in winter and have done this each year (many thanks to Richard Perchard), the buntings quickly learning to use the special feeders. 
 
 
So, how are our buntings doing now? A good walk around the golf-less golf course by Mick Dryden on 3rd May found buntings at six sites. Our recording of the sites is easy as golf clubs, unsurprisingly, number and map their course. However, while the buntings’ presence on the course is widely known, to avoid disturbance we have removed those numbers and replaced with sites (below). Please respect the Royal Jersey Golf Club’s course, the neighbours and, of course, these rare birds who’s foothold in the Channel Islands is still very vulnerable. Here are Mick’s findings: 
  • Site 1. A pair of cirls at the northern end of the gorse, on the road side both feeding together (female above and male at bottom of page)
  • Site 2. A pair at the usual area, both feeding together
  • Site 3. A second male in the large trees, close to the Site 2, singing strongly and flying out to the centre of the course to sing again
  • Site 4. A third pair together on their usual area
  • Site 5 A fourth pair together in the tree. These flew down to the cut down area
  • Site 6. A male singing strongly and holding territory. I didn’t see a female with this one.
So, four pairs plus two additional males = 10 birds. This is at the start of the breeding season and Mick’s survey in 2016 found 17 birds including eight young from three pairs in July, after they’d bred that year.  So, 10 years on from their return, our cirl buntings are still here and, while still vulnerable, they are definitely hanging on. 
 
 

Insect declines and why they matter

Bumble bee. Photo by Mick DrydenInsects in trouble

From The Wildlife Trusts

We’re facing a global biodiversity crisis, with many species declining at an alarming rate. Animals and plants that were once common are now scarce, and insects are no exception. Recent evidence suggests that insect abundance may have declined by 50% or more since 1970, but insect declines are not as well studied as those in larger animals, like birds and mammals. The best data we have in the UK and Channel Islands is for butterflies and moths (see Jersey here and report 2004-2013), which show a broad decline. You can read more in The Wildlife Trusts’ new report about our disappearing insects Insect declines and why they matter.

The bulk of all animal life, whether measured by biomass, numerical abundance or numbers of species, is comprised of invertebrates such as insects, spiders, worms and so on. These innumerable little creatures are far more important for the functioning of ecosystems than the large animals that tend to attract most of our attention. Insects are food for numerous larger animals including birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians and fish, and they perform vital roles such as pollination of crops and wildflowers, pest control and nutrient recycling.

There have been several recent scientific reports describing the rapid decline of insects at a global scale, and these should be a cause of the gravest concern (summarised here). These studies suggest that, in some places, insects may be in a state of catastrophic population collapse. We do not know for sure whether similar reductions in overall insect abundance have happened in the UK. The best UK data are for butterflies and moths which are broadly in decline, particularly in farmland and in the south. UK bees and hoverflies have also shown marked range contractions. The causes of insect declines are much debated, but almost certainly include habitat loss, chronic exposure to mixtures of pesticides, and climate change. The consequences are clear; if insect declines are not halted, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will collapse, with profound consequences for human wellbeing.

The good news is that it is not too late; few insects have gone extinct so far, and populations can rapidly recover.

We urgently need to stop all routine and unnecessary use of pesticides and start to build a nature recovery network by creating more and better connected, insect friendly habitat in our gardens, towns, cities and countryside.

Only by working together can we address the causes of insect decline, halt and reverse them, and secure a sustainable future for insect life and for ourselves.

This report summarises some of the best available evidence of insect declines and proposes a comprehensive series of actions that can be taken at all levels of society to recover their diversity and abundance.

But it’s not too late. Insect populations can recover rapidly if given the chance. To bring about this recovery, we have to make more space for insects. Gardens can be a haven for wildlife, helping connect up wild places in our wider landscape, creating a Nature Recovery Network that enables nature to live alongside us. Examples of how you can help can be found here and Jersey and Guernsey’s Pollinator Project.

The full Wildlife Trusts report Insect declines and why they matter can be downloaded here

 

A Shire for Jersey’s puffins

By Cristina Sellarés

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit puffin. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit puffin-hole, and that means comfort.”

And so the story begins for the puffins, I mean the hobbits, according to J.R.R. Tolkien, of course. I could be forgiven for hoping that J.R.R.Tolkien was inspired by puffins when he devised the short, wobbly, round-bellied, food-loving, funny-looking creatures that live in a hole in the ground, which he named hobbits. Even his own fictional etymology traces the word to ‘holbytla’, which he created by combining the two real Old English words ‘hol’ (hole) and ‘bytland’ (to build) – a name that would be not completely unfit for the puffins either.

Like hobbits, Atlantic puffins build their homes underground, digging holes using their bills and powerful claws, to create a tunnel that leads to a larger inner chamber for the nest. And also like hobbits, puffins like their home comforts and line their nests with soft grasses and feathers, to keep the egg and later the chick safe and warm. They are very tidy too, and manage to keep the chick clean by using a toilet chamber located in a bend before the main room.

And finally, like hobbits again, they do not like unexpected visitors, defending their burrows from envious neighbours, fighting food thieves like gulls, and avoiding, however they can, attacks from invasive predators such as rats, cats and ferrets.

Knowing all this, Birds On The Edge has been trying to improve the homes and breeding grounds of our Jersey puffins, especially in view of he precarious state of the population – down to four pairs from more than a hundred in the space of a century. Sadly, this follows the trend of many other puffin colonies around the world, which have declined or collapsed due to causes ranging from loss of habitat, predation from invasive species and human-caused disturbance, amongst others.

Over the last year we have been monitoring the puffins and other seabirds in their breeding cliffs of the north coast, studying the potential predators in the area and noting the presence of people for leisure and commercial purposes too.

We have also built and installed puffin nest-boxes in some cliffs in the north coast, so that they can be used as artificial burrows by prospecting new pairs. Our breeding puffins, all four pairs of them, already go back to the same burrow each year, so with the boxes we are hoping to attract new pairs recruiting into Jersey’s population, especially ones who were born here and are ready to settle (puffins take 5-6 years to be mature).

As for the boxes themselves, there have been various designs, all following the concept of a tunnel leading to a main chamber. We have stuck to this, building a closed box with a roof, which is completely buried. The access to the chamber is via a 1m-long pipe which is buried too, so that the entrance from outside looks like a hole in the ground. The box is almost one metre long and has a small partition near the entrance, to create the illusion of the toilet chamber, should they like to use it for this purpose. As finishing touches to the installation we packed a layer of mud and soil against the back wall, to give the puffins the chance to dig a bit if they wanted to, without going too far, and for the same reason the boxes have no floor, but a good layer of soil so that the puffins can shift the ground about and decorate their nest as they please.

Digging and burying the boxes in the cliffs wasn’t an easy task; Geomarine sent their “rope team” to assist the rangers of the National Trust and Natural Environment for the job. The team successfully installed some of the boxes in an otherwise inaccessible slope, which was deemed suitable for the artificial burrows.

With the breeding season upon us and our puffin pairs due to arrive anytime now, we will be keeping a close eye on the seas around Plémont, hoping to see the faithful locals come back to their usual spots, and even better to see new pairs flying into the cliffs, their purpose-built homes waiting for them.

The boxes might be a bit too small for a hobbit, but we hope our puffins will approve of their very own Puffin Shire.

 

Reptilewatch training 2020

People with a passion for nature can learn how to survey and protect our native reptiles and become Wild Volunteers at a free training event on Saturday 14 March.

Reptilewatch JE 2020 (which runs from 9:45am to 4:30pm at La Moye School) will teach people about the four native reptile species that can be found in Jersey, how to survey and assess habitats as well as providing some guidance on the identification other wildlife that they may encounter along the way.

The event is organised by The Jersey Amphibian and Reptile Group, Jersey Biodiversity Centre, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and the Government of Jersey’s Natural Environment Team.

The event will offer two different levels of training for up to 50 volunteers. All volunteers can train for both Level 1 and Level 2, and do not need to have any previous experience:

  • Level 1 will give the volunteers the skills they need to run a 30-minute survey in their own time.
  • Level 2 will give volunteers the skills they need to run a minimum of six surveys between April and October, using more complex methods.

The data collected by volunteers will be used to monitor the health of reptiles and their habitats and record the number of animals within the survey areas.

Nina Cornish, Research Ecologist, said: “We would like to encourage anyone who is interested in finding out more about Jersey’s reptiles to come along and see how they can get involved.  The data collected from citizen science schemes like Reptilewatch is used to evaluate the future trends and action necessary to conserve these protected species.

“We rely on the kind support and commitment of Wild Volunteers, who allow us to run more surveys and gain a better understanding of the health of Jersey’s environment so that we can protect it for future generations.”

Anyone who wants to attend the event can reserve a place online or contact Liz Walsh by email: l.walsh@gov.je. or by phone on 441628.

Please don’t forget to wear appropriate clothing and bring some boots and waterproofs to be able to participate in the field session.

Birds in the Channel Islands: lists updated

A little later than in previous years, we are very pleased to update everyone on the Channel Islands’ birds. Two new species were added to the Islands list and unlike some of last year’s (here) they were ‘proper’ species, not those cryptic ones hiding in plain sight. Although Guernsey did add the previously ‘hidden’ Iberian chiffchaff and Caspian gull to their own list in 2018.

With some revisions (Jersey’s saker falcon, probably an escape, was demoted), the overall total for the Islands only actually went up by one so now stands at 377. I was right, last year, that Alderney would add little bunting to their total but they still haven’t reached 300. Losing a bean goose (its become two species and while Jersey can confirm records of both taiga and tundra bean, Guernsey and Alderney decided that they couldn’t retrospectively confirm the tundra version) put them back one, the little bunting brought them back up to 298. The wait for 300 goes on!    

And, in the separate islands, Guernsey added the three species above but also saw their first pallid swifts with birds seen in October and November. Offshore Guernsey birders recorded their Island and the whole CI’s third Wilson’s petrel. And, to rub it in with their southern neighbours the royal tern continued to hang around until May and still didn’t visit Jersey.

In Alderney, the impressive effort continued and besides the little bunting, long awaited second records of goosander, Iceland gull and Richard’s and tawny pipits were logged. There were also three records of great egret, a rapidly spreading species, and two of cirl bunting, a species, in contrast, considered to be in decline and exhibiting limited movements. Interestingly, Sark also saw a cirl bunting, their first since, well, a long time ago. Jersey has breeding cirl buntings but they were absent from the Island from 2004-2012 pointing to more movement in this species than had been expected (and look out for more news on this beautiful bird next year!). 

Guernsey also recorded local rarities in Canada and pink-footed goose, penduline tit and corn bunting. Sark added records of only rarely recorded red kite, nightjar and hawfinch with their cirl bunting.

In Jersey, besides the two CI firsts, above, the first Island record of Pallas’s leaf warbler meant that a gap in the CI list was finally filled in – there have been 18 previous records of this warbler across the other three islands. There were also seconds for Barolo shearwater, little crake and Caspian gull. The little crake was found in poor health and died in care.  A third common rosefinch and third dusky warbler were also notable. 

Two further wading birds made contrasting appearances in the islands in 2018 with a Kentish plover recorded in Jersey for the third time since 2000 and six black-winged stilts seen (two in Jersey and four in Alderney). Kentish plover is a former breeder in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney (last breeding in 1974) whereas the stilt was only first seen in the islands, in Guernsey, in 1987 and has now been recorded in 13 separate years.

The full A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands can be downloaded here

 

Chough report: September 2019

By Liz Corry

Alderney’s free range pigs. Photo by Liz Corry.

A blog post about cute pigs?! Nah. I’m just throwing you off the scent. Click bait. It is the monthly chough report of course with everything that happened in September.

Scoping out the racecourse

A group of twenty-seven choughs under observation at Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

The chough flock spent at lot of time in September foraging around Les Landes Racecourse. There appeared to be plenty of insects available in the soil. Leatherjackets (cranefly larvae) from the looks of things although viewing through a scope a some distance adds uncertainty. 

Beaker and Beanie Baby take flight from Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

We still have a fair few turn up at the supplemental feed. The noticeable difference is that they are taking less food. Instead of finding empty food dishes within an hour of food being put out we find leftover pellet. Presumably because they have eaten so well out and about in the mornings.

Our rodent-proof food stands mean we can leave the leftovers for the choughs to snack on later. Hunger should not be a problem for Jersey’s choughs this month!

Class of 2019 suffer another setback

Another dead juvenile has been found out on the north coast. The body was found by a dog walker near Devil’s Hole. The lady regularly visits Sorel and knew when we would be feeding so kindly handed over the remains. We identified the bird as PP042 who fledged this year in the quarry. Not a huge surprise as they were on the missing birds list. 

The surprise was the condition of the bird…headless and, on X-ray, very broken. You can see shattered bone in the left humerus (circled red in the image below). Our vet was a bit baffled at the post-mortem. The injuries sustained are something he is more familiar with seeing from a bird that had been hit by a car. Plus we don’t know if all this happened after the bird died or before.

Radiograph of dead chough PP042 showing a shattered left humerus (circled red). Image by Andrew Routh

We do know this means there are only 11 juveniles remaining. Three of those have not been seen in a long time. If they are still unaccounted for in October we will have to assume the worse.

PP035 is one juvenile very much alive and kicking. She was caught up mid-September because one of her plastic rings was unraveling. Not an easy thing to do for a bird to do. It would have required force. The ring was replaced and this time a lot of glue was used to seal the overlapping edges. She looked in good health and was released straight away.

Where’s woolly?

The flock of sheep at Sorel were moved off site this month as part of their management plan. 

There was, however, one little sheep who avoided the round-up. We found her merrily grazing away at the aviary. She had pushed through the fencing and entered the hedgerow bank rather cunningly hiding in the hedgerow when the shepherd was around and reappearing at the chough feed.

With a bit a team work and a lot of patience she was eventually moved out (it gave our push-mower a bit of a break!).

After seven years of working out at Sorel it felt quite eerie to visit and have no sheep and no choughs*. You can still find the sheep in various locations around Jersey doing their bit for conservation grazing. Maybe it could become the next rewilding game #whereswoolly?

*don’t worry we haven’t removed the birds, they do that themselves by flying off during the day.

Flocking season in the Zoo

At this time of year, with breeding over, we normally move all the Zoo choughs back into one aviary. This mimics the flocking behaviour you see in choughs over winter. However, this year was a bit different. 

This is the first year we have had only one breeding pair at Jersey Zoo. It is also the first year we haven’t released parent-reared chicks. So that means trying to mix a family of four with the only other chough we have – Gianna.

Gianna has not been welcomed this year by the other choughs in the flocking aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Normally the other choughs ignore Gianna, but with one family and an uninvited guest in their territory things are a little different. We have made three attempts to mix Gianna with the group this month. The first time we assumed tensions were high because the male in the family had only just been moved back. He had been housed separately for the past two months due to bad behaviour. We gave him some more time to settle in and calm down before the next attempt. No change. We waited again. Surely the hormones had settled? Nope.

As soon as I leave the aviary the pair fly over and shout loudly at Gianna. If I then walk away from Gianna, they dive-bomb her and it gets physical. Thankfully, Gianna is thick skinned and once I’m back inside with her she returns to preening and picking out insects.

Gianna claimed rights to the enrichment log looking for tasty rewards. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sadly for Gianna I can’t live in the aviary and be 24-hr bodyguard (although the rent would be free). She has been moved back to her off-show aviary and might have to stay in there over winter.

New placement student

If Gianna does have to stay off-show she will receive lots of attention because….fanfare please…we have a student placement again! After more than a year with a vacant position, Flavio has joined the project.

He is with us until March and has already got stuck in to the task at hand. As evident in the video below. Faceal sampling for health checks, camera trap reviews for roost ID, and dealing with a dead chough all in Week 1.

Flavio has previously worked on a beetle conservation project in the UK so we are hoping to put his survey skills to use in Jersey. His mode of transport is a bicycle so be sure to give him a wide berth if you are overtaking – he has an expensive scope in his bag. I wouldn’t want it damaged! 

Wilder Islands

The annual Inter-Islands Environmental Meeting was held in Alderney this year hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust. With the theme of Wilder Islands, delegates attended a two day symposium highlighting work carried out across the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and islands of the British Overseas Territories. Birds On The Edge was represented by myself and Cristina Sellares with Glyn Young joining on the challenging third day.

Just some of the flags adorning the Island hall representing the delegates’ country of origin. Photo by Liz Corry.

The third day was a mixture of talks and working groups tackling the challenges islanders face with biodiversity and climate change. Tony Juniper gave the introductory keynote speech.

We were also treated to an evening lecture from Dr George McGavin the esteemed entomologist and patron of the Alderney Wildlife Trust.

Roland Gauvain, Alderney Wildlife Trust, introducing guest speaker Dr George McGavin. Photo by Liz Corry.

A separate blog will be posted going into more detail. The highlights for this report include the mention we got in Jamie Marsh’s talk on the white-tailed sea eagle reintroduction in the Isle of Wight. Guess where we might be taking choughs next? And our first possible sighting of a Jersey chough visiting Sark! Suffice to say our holidays work plans for 2020 are quickly filling up.

Alderney’s pigs provide prime foraging habitat if any of our choughs decide to relocate. Photo by Liz Corry.

Wilder Kent

Alderney Wildlife Trust was not the only Trust we were involved with this month. I attended further planning meetings this month for the Kentish Chough Partnership (KCP). This includes Kent Wildlife Trust, WildWood Trust, and the National Trust to name all the trusts. Also involved are Paradise Park, White Cliffs Countryside Partnership, and English Heritage. As you can imagine there are a lot of stakeholders with an invested interest in restoring Kent’s biodiveristy.

Image courtesy of Kent Wildlife Trust

Building on the success of the Jersey choughs, can reintroduced choughs help restore Kent’s chalk grasslands? Could we eventually join the Cornish population and Kentish population to bring back this charismatic bird to England’s entire south coast as in days gone by? Ok, that last bit is jumping the gun. Although it is early days, the KCP are certainly working hard to make sure the first aim is achievable.

You can click the link here to read about Kent Wildlife Trust’s vision for a Wilder Kent.

Jersey’s Great Garden Bird Watch – 18 years of citizen science in Jersey

H Glyn Young and Andrew Koester

No one can have failed to pick up this week that our environment and the biodiversity that we are a part of is under severe threat. Our very future is being debated. The Great Garden Bird Watch in Jersey may seem trivial by comparison but, like its counterparts in the UK (this year’s 40th Big Garden Birdwatch) and elsewhere, it represents a remarkable piece of citizen science that is truly encouraging in the face of such gloom. Each year, supported by the Jersey Evening Post, we encourage people across the Island to spend time on one day over a February weekend to count the birds they see in their garden, typically with the annual threat of atrocious weather, and tell us how many they see.

During this year’s count, our 18th since we started in 2002, 231 households sent us records of their birds. It wasn’t the highest number that we’ve had back but it has been important in establishing very visible trends, showing how those birds that live the closest to us are faring in today’s world. We need this kind of information if we are going to persuade our governments and those around us that Nature needs our help. Don’t forget, if the birds that have chosen to live closest to us are not doing well, what does that say about our own future?

Counts like this are also good for us, we can watch our birds, enjoy their presence and make ourselves happier and healthier. Proximity to and enjoyment of Nature are well known to help our own mental wellbeing (see discussion here) while another study of people who feed and watch birds found that people generally believed that their bird feeding benefits garden birds. They indicated that natural factors (e.g. bird abundance, disease prevalence) and abiotic factors (i.e. cold temperature) had more of an influence on how much they feed birds than internal constraints such as time and money (see link below). We like feeding ‘our’ birds and its good for their survival and its good for our health.

Back to our latest count (here) Jersey’s counters reported 40 different bird species in our gardens. Well 40 birds and red squirrels. Some birds are very rarely counted and hard to analyse so we base or long-term study of population trends of the 16 most reported species, the Big 16. We don’t include herring gulls as many people actively dissuade them so that counts of them may be skewed. See full results for the Big 16 here

Each year, members of The Big 16 may change position in our little table. In 2019, in order of commonness they were:

Species: Average per reporting garden

  1. House sparrow 6.9
  2. Goldfinch 2.8
  3. Chaffinch 1.8
  4. Wood pigeon 1.77
  5. Starling 1.75
  6. Great tit 1.6
  7. Blue tit 1.6
  8. Collared dove 1.4
  9. Magpie 1.4
  10. Robin 1.3
  11. Blackbird 1.0
  12. Greenfinch 0.33
  13. Song thrush 0.26
  14. Pheasant 0.22
  15. Blackcap 0.16
  16. Great spotted woodpecker 0.12

Our honorary bird, the red squirrel, at 0.4 per garden, would have been 12th.

The relative fortunes of the Big 16 over the 18 years of the count can all be seen in our report (here). There has been a slow decline in overall numbers of the 16 with some very obvious losers, species that are losing ground like greenfinch and starling, and winners like goldfinch, wood pigeon and blackcap. One very encouraging trend has been the recovery of the house sparrow, a species inextricably connected with people that had been disappearing from large parts of the British Isles. It’s doing ok in parts of Jersey!

Of further interest to us is this year’s Top 10 in the UK (from RSPB):

Species: Average per reporting UK garden

  1. House sparrow 4.4
  2. Starling 3.1
  3. Blue tit 2.6
  4. Blackbird 2.3
  5. Wood pigeon 2.3
  6. Goldfinch 1.8
  7. Great tit 1.5
  8. Robin 1.0
  9. Chaffinch 1.3
  10. Magpie 1.2.

There are some interesting comparisons. We have more of those lovely house sparrows while starlings and blue tits are definitely missing out in Jersey.

So, in Jersey we can see well how our bird neighbours are doing. And it is undoubtedly a mixed picture. We need to highlight what’s happening, we need to continue to help our garden birds and we need to take part in next year’s count. Watch this space!

Read the report Observations at backyard bird feeders influence the emotions and actions of people that feed birds here